Tengger Desert, Inner Mongolia | Hiking through the huge dunes of the Tengger Desert in Inner Mongolia
Hiking through the huge dunes of the Tengger Desert in Inner Mongolia.

Tengger Desert Lakes, Inner Mongolia (4 days)

Travel by foot and jeep through the desert, visit desert lakes, ride camels, camp in the desert, and more.

Level 2+
Some climbs up sand dunes, mostly easy. (Can I do it?)

This trip is also scheduled as a join-in group tour on the following date

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Trip overview
Day One main activities Travel to Bayanhot via Yinchuan, visit to the Bayanhot Desert Geological Park Museum and the Stone Market, overnight in Bayanhot.
Day Two main activities Hiking and jeep travel between desert lakes and oases, overnight in tents at desert campsite.
Day Three main activities Hiking and travel by jeep and camel between desert lakes and oases.
Day Four main activities Visit Han Dynasty Great Wall, visit Western Xia Imperial Tombs, fly back to Beijing.

Tengger Desert and Alashan Plateau

Dunes as far as the eye can see, in the Tengger Desert
Dunes as far as the eye can see, in the Tengger Desert. (Click for larger image)

This breathtaking region attracts visitors with its unique desert landscape, vibrant cultural diversity, and rich history. Alashan is located in the westernmost part of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, bordered in the north by Mongolia, in the south and west by Gansu province. This area encompasses several different deserts, including the Badanjilin, the Ulan Buh, and the Tengger. Hundreds of saltwater and freshwater lakes can be found in these deserts, including a few which we will be visiting.

Historical evidence of human presence in Alashan dates back as far as 6,000 years ago, when the Mandela Mountain Rock Paintings were carved. 28 ethnic groups including Han, Mongolian and Hui people inhabit this 270,000-square-kilometer (104,247 square miles) land. Reputed as the 'hometown of the camel', Alashan is abundant in two-humped camels and the down producing goat. The former were very important as pack animals along the Silk Road.


Riding camels through the Tengger Desert
Riding camels through the Tengger Desert. (Click for larger image)

The Tengger Desert

The name of the Tengger Desert comes from the Mongolian word for “sky.” The Tengger is classic sand desert: endless waves of sand dunes broken only by the occasional rocky crag. Located in the south-eastern part of Alashan, with an area of about 30,000 square kilometers, this desert is the fourth largest of its kind in China.

Many of the dunes found in the Tengger Desert are crescent-shaped, formed by winds that mostly blow in the same direction. Because of this, the Tengger is China's fastest moving desert, frequently threatening to bury railway lines as its dunes shift across the land. We’ll get deep into the desert, where it’s sand dunes in every direction, as far as the eye can see—quite a sensation!

Lakes and Oases

Somewhat surprisingly, more than 500 fresh- and salt-water lakes and oases can be found in the Alashan Desert. On this trip we will visit or pass by Nuoritu Lake, Yellow Grass Lake, Moon Lake, and Temotu Lake, where we will set up camp.

The Western Xia Imperial Tombs
The Western Xia Imperial Tombs. (Click for larger image)

Western Xia Imperial Tombs

The story of the Western Xia (1036–1227 AD) Dynasty is interesting—a fierce beginning, consolidation of an empire, then a gradual decay due to scheming and corruption, and then an extended finale featuring 20 years of attacks by the Mongolian army, during which it’s said Genghis Khan received a mortal wound. The site of the tombs features an excellent exhibit that uses life-size models and murals to tell the entire story.

In the end, they were completely extinguished by the Mongolian army of Genghis Khan and his sons, leaving only the pyramid-shaped tombs of the early kings.

The near-total destruction of their capital and records means that little is known about the Tangut nomads who founded the Western Xia Dynasty.

Much of what is known is based on records of the neighbouring Liao (907-1125 AD) and Song (960–1279 AD) Dynasties, as well as the results of excavation of the tombs.

The capital of the Western Xia was sited very close to Yinchuan, and the tombs are around 40km west of the city, on the way to the desert. To date, nine king’s mausoleums and 250 smaller associated tombs have been discovered, and one of the main tombs has been opened to visits.

Related content

Photos and trip reports: Tengger Desert Lakes, Inner Mongolia (4 days)

  1. Tengger Desert Lakes, Inner Mongolia, 2020/10

    Tengger Desert Lakes, Inner Mongolia, 2020/10

    Take a look at a few shots from a 4-day trip to the Tengger Desert during the National Day holiday—dunes and desert lakes, plus a quick video of a race down the one of the tallest sand dunes in the area.
  2. Tengger Desert, Alxa League, Inner Mongolia, 2019/04/28 (5 days)

    Tengger Desert trip, 2019/04/28

    29 photos from a four-day adventure in Inner Mongolia—two days in the Tengger Desert, plus visits to the Western Xia Imperial Tombs and local Great Wall remnants.

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